California Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance approves higher education plan

Emily Zhong/Staff

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The California Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance approved the “Degrees Not Debt” budget plan Tuesday designed to make higher education in California more accessible and affordable.

Assembly Democrats, students, parents and the assembly’s budget and higher education committees announced the budget package Monday to assist the nearly 2.8 million students in California’s public higher education systems, including the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems, according to a press release from Assemblymember Kevin McCarthy.

“Today’s budget action is a bold statement to expand access and increase affordability at all of California’s public colleges and universities,” McCarthy said in a different press release. “The Degrees Not Debt Scholarship is California’s most progressive effort to date to help eliminate the debt burden of lower and middle class college students. California is once again leading the nation in making debt free college a reality.”

The budget package would be the first of its kind to help address costs not related to tuition for students attending a state higher education institution, according to the press release. It would also make community colleges free for one year for any full-time in-state student and oppose Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to phase out the Middle Class Scholarship.

The package, however, would not establish tuition-free education. Families making more than $60,000 would be expected to contribute to costs, and students would be required to hold part-time jobs.

H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the California Department of Finance, said the department has yet to do a formal fiscal analysis.

“This is certainly a noble goal, but one that comes with a lot of substantial questions and a price tag,” Palmer said.

In December 2016, the Public Policy Institute of California conducted a poll that found that the majority of California residents believe affordability is a major problem within the state’s public colleges.

According to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez, the UC Office of the President is looking forward to studying the budget package and its proposals.

“As an institution committed to expanding educational access for low-income and first-generation students, we are interested in any proposal that aims to provide more financial support to students,” Vazquez said in an email.

Campus senior Gabriel Davtyan, however, said he is concerned about potential abuse of this plan. Davtyan is worried that tuition or rental rates could rise as students receive increased subsidies and cash flow.

Cal Berkeley Democrats member Soli Alpert said he thinks the new package would be a step in the right direction because of the debt associated with the cost of living here in California.

“One of the challenges the state is facing is that we’re going to be short a million college graduates in the workplace,” Alpert said. “The goal is tuition-free public education.”

Omar Rivera, a campus junior transfer, said in an email that he is happy about the approval of the plan because it would inspire important discourse regarding accessibility to quality education.

California Student Aid Commission spokesperson Patti Colston said the commission has not yet voted to take a position on the budget plan but called the proposal the “most comprehensive” and “wide-reaching” of its kind in the nation. Colston commended the efforts of the legislators.

“A number of academic studies (including my own) have shown that student debt delays students’ proper entering into adulthood,” said Zachary Bleemer, a research associate at the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, in an email.

Contact Ani Vahradyan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.